Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Nicolette Smith

Author: Nicolette Smith

Unit Title: Life in the 1900’s

Lesson Title: Columbus, Celebration and Controversy

Subject: U.S. History

Level: 11th grade high school

Length of Lesson: 1-105 minute block schedule class

The issue of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas has been a hotbed of controversy for many years now.  There are many groups of people that refute the fact that Columbus should be celebrated for his “discovery” but rather he should be lauded for his “conquering” of the New World.  Then there are others that scoff at the fact that people don’t look up to Columbus as an innovative leader way ahead of his time that virtually opened the doors of discovery for the entire world. 

  • The controversy as to the role of Christopher Columbus brings two very interesting issues into the classroom.  The first being the actual role of Christopher Columbus in the discovery of the New World, and the second issue being the re-telling and fictionalization of history.  Students need to know the history of discovery, that is a given, but on the other hand who should be deciding the light within which Columbus should be portrayed, villain or victim, scoundrel or saint.
  • The controversy over the re-telling of history to fit in with the politically correct society in which we live and teach can divide classrooms and parents.  If we look at history and tell the stories of many of our famous men and women, we are often times only telling one side of the story, the European hero side, the side that paints our hero’s in the light that makes us feel comfortable.  So when is it the teachers job to step outside of that comfort zone and tell the truth, and it is important to remember that omission is still lying!  So where do we draw the line, do we draw the line with telling the true horrifying stories of how the Indians were systematically annihilated by the European explorers or showing them pictures and describing what the Atomic bomb did to the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of WWII.  Many people believe that we need to “tone down” the stories of our history, but when does “toning down” become changing history? 
  • This lesson will encourage the students to seek out the truth, perhaps the students discovering the story of the U.S. on their own within a controlled environment will help them use higher level thinking to make up their minds about future events by using inquiry rather than depending on magazines, the news, or internet.   


Students will be able to read and answer questions concerning the discovery of the New World
Students will be able to read and analyze articles provided
Students will be able to write an opinion paper as to their thoughts about the treatment of Native Americans by Early European Explorers
Students will be able to create posters that depict a specific point of view concerning the celebration of Columbus Day


Nevada State Content Standards:

History Standard 1.0: Chronology: Students use chronology to organize and understand the sequence and relationship of events.
Benchmark 1.12.1: Analyze and develop a position on a current event

History Standard 2.0: History Skills: Students will use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision making
Benchmark 2.12.2: Integrate, analyze, and organize historical information from a variety of sources

History Content Standard 5.0: 1200 to 1750: Students understand the impact of the interaction of peoples, cultures, and ideas from 1200 to 1750
Benchmark 5.12.8: Analyze interaction among Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans
Benchmark 5.12.9: Analyze how the interaction among Native American’s, African’s,  Europeans, and their descendents resulted in unique American economic, political, and social systems.


In class Student activities:

  • Students will be given a series of questions that has been designed by the teacher.  These questions will ask the students to find information concerning the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New world, they will be allowed to work in groups of two to complete this assignment, and will have 30 minutes to answer all of the questions.
  • When he arrived , the circumstances of his trip, the purposes of his trip, his interaction with the Natives when he arrived, etc.
  • Students will use a variety of sources to find the information to answer their questions: text, internet (if available), and individual readings that have been provided by the teacher from the book Destruction of the Indies, by Bartomoi de Las Casas
  • Teacher will then go over the questions with the students asking them questions about what they found, and teacher will add additional information that students need to know
  • It is recommended that the teacher provide a notes sheet for the students that is attached to the worksheet, students will be expected to write their additional notes on the sheet provided, this teacher led lecture will take approximately 20-30 minutes
  • Groups of two students will then be given one of several reading packets dealing with the Columbus quincentennial (websites where these readings can be obtained are listed below)
  • In groups the students will read the material and then each write a paragraph synopsis of their article, 15 minutes should be enough time for the students to complete this task and then ask the student to group themselves as the whether their articles were pro-Columbus or anti-Columbus, they will then be asked to read their synopsis’ to one another, and write 1 synopsis as a group that illustrates all the important points made supporting their cause
  • Students will then share their group assignment with the class ( if you have a very large class, then perhaps breaking them into smaller groups would be wise to assure everyone participates) 5-10 minutes
    • As a class we will discuss the two sides of the argument 10-15 minutes 
  • Students will then create a poster that supports the cause of the opposing group (i.e. if students read a pro-Columbus article then they will have to make an anti-Columbus poster) this will help the students see both sides of the argument, remainder of class (this assignment will more than likely roll over into homework so I recommend that posters be made individually)
  • Posters must be in color, have a slogan, a picture, and use at least one of the major points made by the reading supporting their cause, this major point can be made wither in a picture form or words.
    • This lesson will take place in one block class, 105 minutes
  • All of the activities will take place in the classroom, unless internet lab is available and teacher has found a website that contains all of the information they want, a webquest would be a great idea too.
  • Describe/Identify primary source:
    • Students will be using two primary source documents, the individual readings from Destruction of the Indies,  by de Las Casas and the reading about the Columbus quincentenial are all documents that can be classified as primary source, many of the pictures in the De Las Casas are sketches of what he saw in the New World


Extended Enrichment materials:

  • Students will write a journal, there will be three entries each approximately 2-3 paragraphs long each with a picture, they will be allowed to choose the persona of the individual they would like to journal, they can either be a European sailor or a Native American
  • Journal entry #1, immediately prior to the arrival of the Europeans or immediately prior to leaving to sail to the Indies.  Students will need to write about their lives, how they dress where they live how they survive what their daily lives are like.
  • Journal entry #2, Upon arrival in the new world.  What is their perception of these new people, what changes how do they feel
  • Journal entry #3, within a year of the arrival, how has life changed, what is going on around you, describe your situation
  • Students will be asked to write a lesson on how they think Christopher Columbus is taught in the school, they can write the lesson for any grade they wish, it must include 3 different activities and they need to describe what they would teach and why.


Materials List:

  • Readings from Destruction of the Indies
  • Question sheets, remind students the class before not to forget their books
  • Internet if available, good source for pictures etc.
  • Internet sites where you can access the documents about the Columbus quincentennial:



  • De Las Casas, Bartolomi.  Destruction of the Indies


Evaluation /Assessment:

  • Students will turn in their questions for points and they will also receive points according to their notes that they took. 
  • Students will turn in their paragraph synopsis for points
  • Students will turn in their posters for points